How to Care for a Bookstore

All the bookstores I’ve loved are gone.

I live in a small town surrounded by small towns. The businesses that survive are stores that sell what you need to survive as an animal organism.

Bookstores don’t last long.

Garage sales and secondhand stores are the only way to locally buy books. Thank heaven for the internet, where I can purchase any book I want. But if e-books have taught us anything, it is that the joy of reading is primarily a sensory one. When the day came that readers discovered that they could read a book without the distractions of the smell of the paper and the dog eared pages, readers immediately rallied in favor of a book’s many imperfections. As hard as it is to believe, bookstores have become more popular since the advent of the e-book.

This is not to say that everything is rosy in the bookstore’s garden.

By virtue of its product, Bookstores thrive on new books. While there is no shortage of new books, or of book readers (we’re a hardy breed), the rising cost of raw materials, shipping, and the overhead of maintaining a physical location has nearly brought the publishing industry -and thus bookstores- to its knees.

This has whipped publishing houses into a fearful corner. Afraid to print books that are unpopular, publishers stick to what sells easily and and large numbers: biographies of celebrities and volumes of nonfiction self-help books. It’s nearly impossible for a writer who isn’t Stephen King to get a story published.

Don’t even get me started on poetry.

But, I digress.

The point I’m trying to make here is that your average bookstore is beset with difficulties.

Bookstores can’t afford to pay their employees competitive wages. Their clientele are book nerds who purchase from the store rarely, if ever. The bookstore is glad to service their quirky clients, but remember, the longer that we book nerds handle the books, the more the individual books decrease in value.

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? You wander into the store, thumb through a couple books, find one you really like, turn it over to look at the price, and subtly shake your head. You’re not going to play that much for a book. Why not just read a chapter or two whenever you stop by the bookstore, which is all the time? Who’s it going to hurt?

No one and everyone.

I can speak from experience. I’ve seen bookstores drop one by one from malls like flies. Right now, I have to drive 30 miles to walk between the shelves of a bookstore.

Listen, I’m not here to shame you into hanging your head whenever you see another bookstore close, or to tell you to quit visiting your local bookstall in fear of damaging its livelihood. But I do think it’s a good idea to buy a book every now and then.

I read an interesting idea in an internet article one day:

Treat your bookstore as if it were an exclusive club that you’re a member of. The employees are the staff of your resort. You’re allowed to stay as long as you like and read as much as you want, so long as you pay your dues to the club. Buy a book every now and then when you feel that you’ve had as much enjoyment as a book is worth. It doesn’t have to be a set amount, or even an amount every month, but buy a book every now and then. A bookstore does not exist to supply books (any 3rd rate website can do that) but to supply atmosphere and ambiance.

Buy a book so you can hear your footsteps tread softly in the only quiet you’ll find in the city. Smell the coffee shop and the fresh pages of a novel. Feel the Charlie horse in your elbow as you nestle that oversized hardbound for too long. Come up for air from the poetry shelves with a haze in your eyes that makes your world all that much better.

If we are to fund sanctuaries for birds, animals, and wildlife, then let’s donate to preserve the only true home a bookworm.

I write this so you don’t have to travel to find peace, silence, and gentle rasp of turning pages.

2 thoughts on “How to Care for a Bookstore

  1. I worked at an unnamed big-chain bookstore for a while (which shall remain unnamed…) but in a way, what you’re talking about is exactly the way they’re (barely) staying alive. They offer a membership that gets you a percentage off of books, but you pay for it. So then you feel obligated to shop there, and they get a loyal customer base. I resent the practice for various reasons, but I also completely understand it. It’s not e-books putting them out of business, but Amazon. There’s no way to compete with those prices.

    I definitely recommend supporting local bookstores more, but having seen exactly what you’re talking about in practice, I can say it’s a beautiful attitude that everyone should adopt.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting. I have little experience in bookstores and was afraid my thoughts may have fallen short of truth. It’s good to hear that I wasn’t far from the mark.

      Like

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